• Iron-air battery maker Form has an unexpected new customer: Georgia Power
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Iron-air battery maker Form has an unexpected new customer: Georgia Power

The regulated utility is only the second known customer trying out the novel technology for clean long-duration energy storage.
By Julian Spector

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(Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

An old-school monopoly utility in the Southeast could be among the first to trial a potentially groundbreaking clean energy technology.

Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, recently revealed that it plans to install a novel iron-air battery from Form Energy to provide long-duration energy storage. The utility wants to test the technology’s suitability for inclusion in its long-term shift to clean energy.

They are very much leaning into this transition,” Form co-founder and CEO Mateo Jaramillo told Canary Media. This is one of the projects they’re contemplating.”

Georgia Power’s new portfolio plan calls for doubling renewable capacity by 2035, shutting down all remaining coal plants by that same year and investing in more natural-gas power. It also discusses advanced storage technologies — and calls out only one company by name: Form Energy.

These types of [long-duration storage] technologies could provide an economic and reliable avenue to reduce reliance on fossil fuel-based generating resources while supporting renewable growth,” Georgia Power states in its most recent formal planning document, called an integrated resource plan. When these technologies mature, they have the potential to fundamentally alter the energy landscape.”

Form Energy pitches its iron-air battery as a competitor to gas plants for delivering reliable power for days on end, far beyond what’s possible with other energy storage technologies.

But the startup still needs to prove its product works in the field. Its first confirmed project is with Minnesota cooperative utility Great River Energy, slated to come online in 2023. Form will build the modules for that project in a factory outside of Pittsburgh, in the numerically named town of Eighty Four, Pennsylvania.

Georgia Power and Form are finalizing details for a project that could be as large as 15 megawatts/1,500 megawatt-hours, then they’ll submit the idea to regulators later this year. That’s a modest power capacity, but it amounts to more megawatt-hours of storage than nearly any battery operating on the grid today.

The relationship between Georgia Power and Form goes back years, Jaramillo said. It started with collaborative work on modeling the changes entailed by decarbonizing the grid in the South in order to determine which new resources would become valuable.

Georgia Power is also an investor in Form, via its role as a limited partner in the utility-backed venture firm Energy Impact Partners. EIP joined Form’s Series C financing round in 2020. The startup’s Series D last year brought total funds raised to more than $360 million.

The cleantech-startup sector is littered with multiyear utility demonstrations that never led to meaningful installations of new technology. But the yearslong process leading up to this announcement gives Form confidence that its demonstration project will be a starting point, not an end.

We have no interest in doing one-off pilots,” Jaramillo said. We are only pursuing markets which are deep for us and compelling from a fundamental standpoint.”

One of the challenges in developing long-duration storage is that the competitive power markets that cover much of the U.S. lack a clear form of compensation for this new type of power plant. Investors don’t know what kind of payback they’ll get without a long-term contract with a customer.

Form’s first two projects — with Great River Energy and Georgia Power — have come from bilateral negotiations with utilities that are solely responsible for ensuring the generation and transmission of electricity to meet their customers’ needs. Georgia Power serves 2.7 million customers across its namesake state.

They are fully responsible for all reliability,” Jaramillo said. They put a value on it as a result.”

Across the continent in California, state regulators are demanding that power companies start buying long-duration storage in the next few years. Last month, a group of community power providers concluded the state’s first competitive bidding process for a long-duration storage contract. Though companies pitched numerous new and emerging technologies for the eight-hour storage duration contract, developer Rev Renewables won with a lithium-ion battery project.

That outcome puts storage competitors on notice that lithium-ion, the dominant option for shorter-duration projects, can also compete for projects that require longer durations.

There’s no reason why lithium-ion should not be providing eight hours [of storage duration] where that’s valued,” said Jaramillo, who worked with lithium-ion previously while running Tesla’s battery storage business.

The outcome in California lends credence to Form’s decision to chase 100-hour storage durations with a technology based on cheap and abundant iron. Lithium-ion may be able to compete for eight hours of storage, but the material costs pile up and render it uneconomical for plants that need to deliver power for days in a row.

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.